Debussy – Petite Suite

by Max Derrickson

Claude Debussy   (b in St.-Germain-en-Laye, France, August 22, 1862; d in Paris, March 24, 1918)

Petite Suite
1. En bateau
2. Cortège
3. Menuet
4. Ballet


Like his contemporary, Maurice Ravel, Debussy was at the forefront of the Impressionist movement in music.  It’s not surprising that he would be, of course, given that select salons in Paris were hosting great painters, musicians and writers all philosophicating into the wee hours, with Debussy as one of the most vocal among them.  But as with Ravel, the term Impressionist does not always apply well to Debussy’s compositions.  His Petite Suite, for example, gives us wonderfully appealing melodies that listeners can sink their teeth into – something that strictly Impressionist music tended to steer clear of.  Still, there are some of Debussy’s lovely Impressionist trademarks in this Suite – the use of the whole tone scale, meters that seem to float across the bars of time, and split-open harmonies that give a feeling of floating.

The Suite was originally written in 1889 for piano, four hands, and it was soon afterwards arranged for orchestra by another French composer, Henri Büsser, who had a stunning gift for orchestration.  En bateau begins with a sweet and wandering tune,  [. . .]